The Lehigh men’s soccer team opens their season against American University on March 6 in Washington D.C.
The Mountain Hawks brought home the Patriot League Championship in 2019, adding a degree of pressure to defend their title.
“I think we’ve kind of got a target on our backs from last season, as any team would if they were coming off a championship season,” said junior goalkeeper Noah Sutherland.
Since there are only six games this season, Sutherland said they’re approaching every game as a must-win but said they have a strong mentality heading into the season.
Despite the pressure to do well in an abridged season, sophomore defender Euan Forrest said everyone is excited to finally play again after a long off-season.
“Once you take the field, you’re in the uniform, and you’re standing next to your teammates ー it’s a special feeling and something that’s really hard to recreate outside of itself,” Forrest said. “It’s not something we can recreate in practice. It’s not an atmosphere that we can match just on our own. It’s something that only comes on game days, so it’s going to be super exciting.”
Forrest said it was hard to train last semester without knowing what they were training for.
When the team was practicing in the fall, they didn’t know if they were having a spring season.
“As each day got closer and closer to definitely having a season, it was a lot easier for everyone to stay focused, stay motivated,” Forrest said.
Practices for the soccer team started in small groups with a focus on distancing and individualized training. As Lehigh’s restrictions have eased, the men’s soccer team has slowly integrated full-team in-person practices into their schedule.
Associate head coach Ryan Hess said because all 23 sports are in action, practices operate differently to allow every team to safely share the space.
Hess said with all teams in action, flexibility is especially important.
“The time that we’re practicing is different,” Hess said. “What we’re doing each week is pretty different. For the most part, we are practicing in the evenings. Each day is just trying to make sure that we’re getting the guys prepared for the games physically, as well as mentally and tactically.”
While the men’s soccer team graduated a couple of star players last spring, they still have the majority of their top players from the 2019 championship run.
Junior forward Josh Luchini was named to the MAC Hermann Award Watchlist, which is given to the top male and female college soccer players. Senior Stevo Bednarsky was named the preseason Patriot League Midfielder, and junior Nick Jennings was named to the Preseason All-Patriot League team. Lehigh was also picked to win the Patriot League again, receiving 17 first-place votes in the preseason poll.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve played the game,” Hess said. “But we’re fortunate we have a really great group of upperclassmen who experienced the last time we played games, so we’re going to really lean on them to kind of show the freshmen what the expectations are, and what college soccer is all about.”
Sutherland said the emotional ties established between players will help them to thrive this season and in their upcoming game against American University.
“The relationships that we developed on and off the field really translated to that trust on the field that we needed to be successful,” Sutherland said. “That’s definitely what’s going to lead to our success is that trusting relationship, and just the want to play for the guy next to you.”